UNLV soccer standout Mike Mota could be bitter, and probably with good reason. But he’s not that kind of guy.
The junior defender has been through just about everything — far more than he bargained for — during his Rebels career. He has endured disappointing seasons, an overhaul of the coaching staff and even the possibility that the men’s soccer program would be eliminated.
But Mota, a product of Chaparral High School, isn’t bemoaning his situation.
“I’m happy to be at UNLV,” he said. “I always live life without regrets. Things happen for a reason, good or bad, and this experience has been worthwhile.”
But it hasn’t been what he expected when he came out of high school and thought he was entering a program on the rise. Then-coach Mario Sanchez had generated high hopes the team would re-establish itself as a powerhouse in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
But Sanchez left the program after Mota’s freshman season, and several top players left with him.
“Things were already tough,” said Mota, whose team had just endured a disappointing 8-7-4 season. “But that took everyone by surprise.”
But Mota, taking a sunny outlook, said things weren’t as bad as he initially feared. UNLV assistant Rich Ryerson was named head coach, soothing the nerves of the remaining players.
“Most of the guys already knew Rich,” Mota said. “So it was not completely different. We made the transition.”
Then came the rumor that the program was about to be disbanded as the athletic department attempted to trim its budget. Ryerson informed his remaining players that they would have to start raising money — almost $1 million — to save the program.
“That was a huge shocker,” said Mota, who, along with teammates, was asked to participate in countless public relations functions. “We had to do clinics and make appearances. It’s always nice to go out in the community, but it was tough.”
Rather than leave the program after that bombshell was dropped in his lap, Mota wanted to remain a Rebel.
“I believed in Coach,” said Mota, one of 10 players to stick with Ryerson through the turmoil. “He was completely motivated. He told us the decision was up to us and that nothing was guaranteed. A lot of us bought into what he was trying to do.”
Ryerson said there was never any doubt about Mota’s decision.
“As a local, he’s got a sense about being a Rebel, and about representing UNLV and playing in front of the home fans,” the coach said.
The team raised $60,000, but the program was saved when the Engelstad Family Foundation kicked in another $850,000 in July.
Finally, Mota was able to refocus on the game he has spent a lifetime playing. But with 13 players having fled the program, he was suddenly thrust into the role of team leader. Though not generally a vocal player, Mota welcomes the role.
“Leadership comes in different ways,” said Mota, an All-MPSF honorable mention pick last year. “I lead by example. If you do things right, the team’s going to catch on. It’ll rub off on your teammates.”
Ryerson said Mota has done things right.
“We hope it’s something contagious to the team,” Ryerson said. “He just goes out and does the work he needs to do.”
Last weekend, Mota and the Rebels fell to 1-4 with 2-1 losses to San Francisco and Wisconsin-Green Bay in the UNLV Invitational at Johann Memorial Field. UNLV visits UC Riverside on Friday.